The El Alamein fountain, affectionately called ‘the dandelion’ takes pride of place in the centre of Fitzroy Gardens, Potts Point.
You’ll find it marked on all the tourist maps and for locals it is a meeting place, a marketplace on weekends and a place of remembrance on ANZAC day. Here’s a short history of this Potts Point icon.
The motivation behind building the fountain was to commemorate two WWII battles involving the Australian Infantry Forces (AIF) in North Africa. The role of the Australian 9th Division – as part of the British Eighth Army, under the command of General Auchinleck – was to stop Field Marshal Rommel and his Axis forces from capturing Cairo and the Suez Canal. The battles, fought near the tiny railway stop called El Alamein between July and November 1942, resulted in the loss of 6,000 Australian lives. The high price paid did, however, help facilitate an Allied victory in North Africa.
So how did the joyful, exuberant dandelion fountain come about?
In 1959 the Sydney City Council set up a competition to find a design for a fountain in the Fitzroy Gardens. One of the judges on the panel for the £500 prize was esteemed architect Professor Leslie Wilkinson. Wilkinson had a brilliant career, designing some of Sydney’s smartest homes. His houses from the 1920’s and 1930’s are highly sought after when they appear on the market today – the Mediterranean aesthetic he favoured and the high quality materials employed have an unbeatable timeless attraction.
The winner of the prize was Architect Robert (Bob) Woodward. Woodward joined the army during WWII. Post war he studied architecture at the University of Sydney where Professor Wilkinson, who had established the faculty in 1919 and acclaimed artist, Lloyd Rees, were lecturing. After a brief working stint with Peddle Thorp & Walker Architects, Woodward made his way to Europe and found work with one of the biggest names in modernist architecture, Alvar Aalto. For Aalto and then later with the firm Viljo Revell in Finland, Woodward worked across the disciplines of building, interior design, lighting, furnishings and fabrics. During his time in Scandinavia Woodward became a proponent of the modernist principles of architecture, namely – the organic relationship architecture has with biology and the landscape.
And so, direct from nature, he came up with the dandelion.
Facts about the El Alamein fountain
There are 211 radially arranged stalks. It has a diameter of nearly 4 metres and sits on top of a 3 metre brass pipe. It is set over four terraced pools.
Opened in 1961 by Lord Mayor of Sydney Alderman H.F. Jensen, it was restored in 2012.
Woodward’s award-winning dandelion was an immediate hit. The Australasian Post magazine in 1967 said “it is probably one of the most beautiful man-made things in the land.” Back then – just as today – people love the way it looks by day, by night, when it is sunny, cloudy, windy and even in the rain. You can hear the sound of the water flowing over the bustle of the street noise.
The dandelion launched an international design career
The dandelion was one of the drivers of Woodward’s career. He became a highly regarded international fountain designer. You can find examples of Woodward’s work all over the world and specifically more dandelions, in San Francisco, Stuttgart, Stockholm, Istanbul and Hong Kong.